By Epsilon Angel
Lissanore puffed out an anxious breath as she cast a look over her shoulder, her feet flying gracefully over the wooded terrain. Her long brown hair, which had once been in a demure knot at the nape of her neck, now flew behind her in a ragged, tangled mess. Her tunic was torn and grimy, her arms bleeding from the whipping thorn bushes she’d run afoul of.
She’d never been such a mess in her long life.
In her head, she placed a thousand curses upon the human men that had attempted to rob her while she slept. She would happily do it aloud, but her breath was scarce enough as it was.
She’d only just started out on her journey—she’d left her monastery less than a week ago. How poorly could her little expedition start?
They’d come in the night, like cowards, startling her out of a dead sleep. Taken by surprise, she had barely been able to escape in one piece. And for what? The stupid humans had not even bothered to learn which of the gods she worshipped—if they had, they would’ve known there would be no wealth found on her person. No gold, no jewels, no senseless finery. She was dedicated to the Goddess of the Wilds, on a journey to see more of what She had created. Lissanore had no use for material wealth, and the whole ordeal had been for naught.
And, she thought fiercely, if I’d not been sleeping, things would have gone an entirely different way.
The Wilds were not peaceful. The Goddess was not peaceful. And neither were Her followers. Lissanore was no shrinking flower.
But things had not gone that way. She’d had no choice but to flee—outnumbered and half-asleep, it was not a fight she could have won. The brigands—thick as stumps, the lot of them—had set out in pursuit. Why, she could not say. Perhaps they had realized she had nothing of value and sought her to salvage their pride. Perhaps it was simply out of anger.
She had no clue. She was not equipped to understand the minds of such imbeciles.
“Where are you, little elfling?” She heard a mocking cackle rise from the dense tangle of trees and undergrowth behind her.
“We don’t want to hurt you!” Another chimed in, uncomfortably close.
Oh, how desperately Lissanore wanted to stop running and show them precisely how unpleasant a “little elfling” such as herself could be. But it would be unwise. There had been five at her camp, and she had to assume all had pursued her. Those odds were iffy at the best of times. Fighting them head-on would be reckless and foolish.
But neither could she keep running forever. Something would give soon, and she had to hope it wasn’t her.
No sooner did that thought cross her mind when out from the thicket popped a small, furred body. Brown with a little white belly, and large, liquid eyes—an ermine. She skidded to a halt, brows raised. What was it doing here? She hadn’t seen one of these shy creatures even once in her many years in the monastery of the Goddess, and she’d spent much of her time there exploring the Wilds.
The small mammal blinked twice at her, assessing, before turning and galloping off into the woods, its long body arcing gracefully with every bound. She had no time to second-guess herself—and she knew better than to discount such a sign. Moving on instinct and hope alone, she turned and followed the creature, moving as fast as her weary feet would carry her.
As she followed, the air around her and the ermine started to cool, curiously chilly even for the early morning, and Lissanore was forced to skid to a stop when her destination loomed before her like a living being. Ten feet high at least, inky blackness devouring the ambient morning light, leading to who knew where deep below them. A cave entrance, it seemed.
With a little pip and a twitch of its pink nose, the weasel disappeared into the cave.
The yawning mouth before her was a bittersweet sight.
One the one hand, Lissanore knew it to be a sign from the Goddess, one she would be foolish not to follow. The species of men were wary of the dark and the underground, and with good reason. Even the most brash of men knew that with their dulled senses they were easy prey for the many creatures that dwelled beneath the surface of their world. They avoided it at all costs.
Unfortunately, she was no more pleased with the cave than they were like to be. In her experience, the ability to see the horrors below brought anything but comfort. Logically, of course, she was safer for it, but some things were better left unobserved and undisturbed. Recalling even the depictions of underground creatures from the books in the monastery’s library made the meager contents of her stomach sour.
The Goddess, however, had brought her here for a reason. Uneasy as it made her, she would heed the guidance. After all, hadn’t she left on this journey to see more of the Wilds?
With a deep, fortifying breath, she plunged headlong into the darkness ahead.
Lissanore’s half-elf vision was not the thing of miracles, unfortunately. Nor was it magical. By the second or third twist and turn of the cave, all traces of light had completely vanished. Even she, at this point, was almost blind. She could just barely make out the general shapes of the objects a few feet in front of her, and nothing more. The urge to turn tail and run back from whence she came was overpowering—almost maddening. But she knew she could not. There was every possibility the bandits would at the very least search the shallower beginnings of the cave system. If they didn’t find her, she doubted they’d give up so easily. They’d likely set up camp at the cavern mouth, see if they’d wait her out.
So, for now, she was stuck down here. And, seeing as how she had been forced to leave behind all her provisions, she’d just have to push onward. Most large cave systems had multiple surface entrances—she’d just have to find another one.
But she was getting ahead of herself. For now, she had to figure out how to navigate the underground. She could, of course, create light, but that would only potentially draw attention. And yet stumbling around aimlessly and blindly could end up being just as dangerous.
Goddess, the whole “survival” business was much easier to swallow when it was in book form, and Lissanore was curled up, reading the words by the light of the moon. Of course, she’d done her part in the monastery—gathered food from the bountiful Wilds to eat, warded their home against monsters with herbs and magic, learned to use the natural power of her body as a weapon against those that would harm her or the Wilds they revered.
But she was no bold and brash adventurer. No mercenary. And she was also terribly indecisive.
“Scholarly appreciation doesn’t translate to practical ability, it seems,” she muttered to herself, before realizing speaking aloud was just as likely, if not more, to draw in creatures from the depths.
After much deliberation, she finally settled on casting her light upon a small, fist-sized rock she picked up from the cavern floor, holding the folds of her tunic at the ready to cover and douse the light at a moment’s notice. As she peered out at the dark, craggy tunnels winding their way in front of her, she could not decide whether the gift of sight lessened or increased the whirl of her anxiety.
Knowing she had stalled long enough, and with a murmured prayer to the Goddess, she pressed forward.
Lissanore didn’t know what time it was.
That should likely be the least of her current worries, but it was the thing that unsettled her the most. One of the first things she had learned in the monastery was the ability to tell the hour by the position of the sun in the sky. For so many years, she’d never been unsure of the time, even when she’d been leagues from the slightest technological innovation. To not have it at her fingertips was ridiculously off-putting.
Her stomach, however, knew the time to the minute, it seemed. And it was mightily displeased about it. Never before, Lissanore reflected, had she been quite so envious of the more dedicated, elder members of the monastery—the ones who could suspend their bodies’ needs and fast for far longer than should be biologically possible. The practice wasn’t necessary, and, in fact, some considered it disrespectful to the Goddess to deny their natural needs. The monks who practiced this justified it by saying it made them even more grateful for the bounty of the Goddess. Lissanore had not particularly cared one way or another—all she knew was she had no desire to deprive herself of food she had gathered herself.
And, at the end of the day, worship of the Goddess of the Wilds was a personally defined and deeply intimate journey. Though the monks of her monastery did so together, everyone tailored their practice to their own personal needs and philosophies. The Goddess did not quibble over ritualistic methods and prayer structure.
Now, however, she rather wished she’d at least attempted to learn it. At this rate, the grumbling of her stomach would give away her presence far before her little glowing rock did.
She was suddenly yanked from her musings when she heard an unidentifiable sound ahead. Swiftly, she doused her light with her tunic, blinking rapidly against the resulting oppressive darkness. Tilting her head, she strained her ears, searching for the sound that had caught her attention.
There! Again, she heard it. A low, eerie rumble. Almost a hum, but grating and off-key. The very sound strung her nerves tight as a tanner’s hide. Frantically, she searched her mind for what it could be. Perhaps it was some means of echolocation? Many species who dwelled down here used it as a means of navigation and hunting prey—but surely, she wasn’t deep enough yet for that sort of thing. Then again, who knew? These caves were disorienting, and—
Before she could spiral too much further, Lissanore heard a sound that both relieved and enraged her. A meaty thud, followed by a vile curse…in common, in a voice that could only be that of an adult man.
Ahead of her. Unaware of her presence.
She didn’t know how one of the bandits had found his way into the tunnels ahead of her, but she found she didn’t care. She wanted her pound of flesh.
Calling upon her Goddess, the power of her ki strengthening her muscles, she smiled slowly. Oh, she was no adventurer, but it was time to disabuse these men of the notion that she was a helpless, peaceful monk.
Lissanore’s footsteps made no sound as she padded down the tunnel, her ears guiding her as she approached the man ahead. She was near impossible to detect, especially with human hearing. He would never know what hit him. Especially since he kept carrying on about the stalagmite that had apparently had the audacity to jump out and whack him in the shin. It would have been amusing if she didn’t already know he was a cowardly thief, devoid of morals.
His voice was louder now, foolishly loud considering their current location. She was really doing him a favor by shutting him up. Who knew what he’d bring onto their heads with that racket?
Now that she was closer, she could detect the echo of his voice. She stepped forward again and understood why—they were in a larger chamber now, not the tiny, winding tunnels that she’d been travelling in for the past who knew how many hours. His being ahead of her now made sense. Likely, this chamber would have many connecting tunnels. He’d probably come down from another and cut his way in front of her.
“Listen, you pointy little rock dick, I’m a nice guy. I’ve never done a thing to you! I was just minding my business, scheming my schemes, and you decided to assault me without provocation! You see where I’m coming from here?”
By the Goddess, he had completely lost all sense! The question now was whether he’d been like that beforehand or if the short stint in the caves had already gotten to him. Human minds were so very fragile.
It didn’t matter. He would pay regardless. His deed today would not go unpunished. She wouldn’t allow it.
“I bruise very easily you know—like a peach! I’m a delicate creature. A lover, not a fighter, if you will.”
The deep, rumbling tenor of the man’s voice contrasted so sharply with his words it was comical, but Lissanore crept forward all the same, drawing her strength from the unyielding stone floor, letting the Wilds of the Goddess imbue her with nature’s magical energies.
Now, even with her limited vision, she could see the large shape of the man in front of her. She did not remember seeing one quite this big in the party following her, but then again, she hadn’t allowed them to get too close.
Still, he stood easily over a foot taller than her five-foot two-inch height and appeared to be built like an ox. If not for his distinctly human manner, she’d think he had orc blood. In the end, his bulk presented little issue—in her experience, larger foes simply fell all the harder than small ones. Standing behind him as she was, a swift kick to the back of the knee would demonstrate that rather effectively.
But then, she froze, not even daring to breathe, the cool tip of a sword resting so deceptively lightly at her throat.
“Am I going to have to relieve you of your head?” The man’s voice, to her shock, was just as light and humor filled as it had been when he was addressing the stalactite. Totally unphased by her presence.
“Why haven’t you?” She managed from around her fear.
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m a lover, not a fighter.”
The unwavering precision of his blade, even in the unrelenting darkness, belied that statement. But she refused to be at the mercy of this human—she knew just the kind of man he was. Moving fast, she gripped the end of his sword, calling on the coldness of the cavern around them to cover it in a numbing layer of frost. Hissing in surprise, the man dropped it with a clang, and Lissanore darted away, putting some distance between them as she gathered her ki for another attack.
“Blistering hells!” The man grumbled, “this is what I get for being nice.”
“Nice?” She snarled, “you call attacking a sleeping woman nice?”
“Not really, which is why I don’t tend to do that.”
He was seriously trying to plead innocent with her? After all his band of two-bit thieves had put her through? Fury roiled in her chest, and she raised her palm to unleash it upon him.
Before she could, the chamber filled with light.
Lissanore blinked as she adjusted to the brightness, hands in front of her defensively as she anticipated his attack. By the time she realized none was forthcoming, her eyes had grown accustomed once more, and she lowered her hands to see the man holding some sort of enchanted lantern.
And oh, what a man. Even taller and broader than he’d seemed in the dark, her head would barely reach his armpit. It seemed to Lissanore that with that kind of build, he should surely have been cursed with an intolerably ugly visage—this was not the case. Broad jaw, full lips, and cheekbones carved from marble…every part of the man was devastatingly attractive. Even his hands were oddly pleasing, large, calloused, and blunt-fingered. He somehow managed to strike the perfect balance between roguish charm and rugged masculinity.
A pity she had to kill him.
Shaking out one of his aforementioned giant mitts, he smirked at her. “You know, messing with a man’s sword is rude. Most of us are rather partial to them.”
She narrowed her eyes at his juvenile innuendo. “Pointing it at someone is rude.”
“Sneaking up on someone is rude, babe.”
“Apparently, I wasn’t really sneaking!”
“You were trying to. Haven’t you heard it’s the thought that counts? Goes for bad thoughts too, I’m sure.”
She was even more tempted to wring his thick neck now.
Having suitably shook feeling back into his hand, he immediately went to retrieve his longsword. Lissanore’s palm snapped out, and a gust of wind sent the blade skittering halfway across the cave, away from the man.
“Don’t even think about it, human.”
His grin, which hadn’t budged throughout the entirety of their very serious encounter, widened. “Cute. Any chance you’ll teach me that little trick?”
Did he just have the audacity to call her “cute”? He did. And she most certainly did not feel a silly little flutter in her belly because of it.
“You won’t live long enough to learn it,” she spat back. The gall of this man!
He cocked his head, a lock of long blond hair falling from where it was bound at the nape of his neck. “And why are you planning on offing me, may I ask?”
“You know why!” Lissanore could feel the sparking of her ki ripple along her limbs in response to her anger.
He brought his hands up, palms flat. “Humor your unarmed, pitiful captive?”
Goddess, he was ridiculous. “Your group attacked my camp while I was sleeping, looking for loot you wouldn’t find!”
He blinked. “Wait, really? You think I’m a common brigand? Do I look like a common brigand?” he gestured to himself, for the first time seeming somewhat offended.
She had to admit, unfortunately, that he had a point. The man could not look more different from the men who’d been pursuing her. His dark, studded leather armor gleamed with a well-oiled sheen, obviously both good quality and well cared for. His cloak was thick and devoid of snags or holes. Aside from a few days’ worth of blond stubble, he was well manicured—and clearly bathed. Though his aquiline nose had clearly been broken a time or two, his handsome face was free from the ugly, jagged scars that decorated many of the bandits—whether that meant he didn’t go looking for battles or was simply very good at ducking remained to be seen.
What really struck her, however, were his eyes. A welcoming, warm brown. And, importantly, unburdened by the heavy malice of a cold-blooded killer. Arrogance? Sure. Humor? Unfortunately. Charm? Oh, most definitely. But she’d eat her tunic if he was one of those goons.
Deflating, she pinched the bridge of her nose, only vaguely aware of him moving to retrieve his weapon. A well-honed, rust-free weapon. Goddess, she’d been a fool to think he was one of her attackers.
“What are you doing in these caves, then?” She asked tiredly.
There was a pause, and she looked up to see him rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “Uh, depends on your point of view. In my opinion, I’m on a righteous quest to help my sister follow her true passion.”
Lissanore raised a brow. “And in her opinion?”
He grinned boyishly. “I haven’t had the chance to ask her yet, but when I do, I’d bet her version involves significantly more colorful language.”
“I’m guessing you get that reaction quite frequently.”
He threw his hands in the air, crowing, “Ahh, she does have a sense of humor!”
Darting her eyes around, Lissanore hissed, “not so loud! You want to bring attention to us?”
He shrugged. “I haven’t run into anything as of yet, and if I do, I think I’ll manage. What are you scared of running into…?”
“Lissanore,” she supplied, rolling her eyes. “And the easier answer would be what am I not afraid of running into. Do you have any idea what roams in caves such as this?”
“The name’s Elwood, by the way, so kind of you to ask,” he purred teasingly, and Lissanore fought back a blush in favor of a glower. “And, as to your question, I have a very good idea what lurks in the dark. It’s kind of my job to know.”
“Why don’t you take a seat,” he interrupted, gesturing at the stone floor as if it were a fine dining chair. “I was just about to make food.”
Her stomach seized at the very mention of food, and as presumptuous as she found his invitation, she sat. “It’s lunchtime, then?”
He shook his head, removing his studded chest armor, leaving only a gray tunic with his studded leggings beneath it. He then moved to set up a small cookpot over top of his magical lantern. “More like dinnertime, I’d say. But it’s hard to tell in here.”
At first, Lissanore was distracted by the positively sinful play of muscles beneath his thin tunic, but as he pulled out supplies for cooking—ladles, spices, dried meat—slowly, she realized, he was removing from his pack more than could reasonably fit within it. A bag of holding.
She was, begrudgingly, impressed. She’d thought the earlier comment about his occupation to be little more than bluster—but she had to admit, he was far too well equipped for that to be the case. She had before her an actual, professional adventurer. Though she doubted he was here now on any official capacity.
After removing the casing from the lantern and throwing some mixture of spices in with the dried meat and broth, he dusted his hands off. “Should be no more than twenty minutes or so, now. Hopefully it will be halfway to edible.”
Lissanore smiled gratefully at him. “Even if it weren’t, I’m hungry enough not to care at the moment.”
Lowering himself to the stone beside her, he stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankles. “And why are you hungry, Lissa?”
She started. No one had ever shortened her name before—despite it being a bit of a mouthful. She thought she would hate it, but from him it filled her with a warm, giddy sensation, like a strong red wine.
“Lissa?” He prodded, concern furrowing his brows.
She shook herself, likely flushing bright pink. “Apologies. I’ve…had a difficult day.”
“Because you were attacked?”
For some reason, she hadn’t expected him to listen to her, much less remember. “Yes. They thought I had something worth stealing, worth killing for. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I had nothing of the sort.”
“Common bandits,” Elwood said, dripping with disgust. “Never liked that sort. Always punching down when they could be punching up.”
Lissanore shrugged. “Can’t say I’ve had too much experience, other than today. They attacked early, while I was still sleeping. Nearly killed me. I just barely escaped, but they weren’t ready to give up.”
He nodded in understanding. “So, you decided to use some human eccentricities to your advantage, hid in the Cavern Labyrinth.”
She furrowed her brows. “Cavern Labyrinth?”
“That’s what we call it, anyway,” he gestured to the craggy walls surrounding them. “This is a segment of it—it’s a massive cave system, and singlehandedly responsible for most of the average adventurer’s income.”
He grimaced. “The beasties that spring from here are often unpleasant enough that villages, towns, barons—they put out contracts for them. Keeps our bellies full, awful as it is.”
Lissanore thought for a moment. “Seems to me it’s just like any ecosystem. Everything feeds off everything else, in one way or another.”
Elwood cocked his head, a slow smile spreading across his face as he regarded her. “Never thought about it like that. Can’t say I disagree.”
For a moment, a long, long moment, Lissanore was held a prisoner by his stare. She simply could not look away—and, scarily, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. It felt like she was tumbling into him, falling further with every breath they shared.
But she’d lived too long with her feet firmly planted on the ground to just give that up now. Even if this was one of the most deeply compelling men she’d met in decades.
Thankfully, a sufficient distraction was provided.
“Your stew is boiling over,” she managed, her voice breathy and confused even to her own ears.
Elwood turned to see that, in fact, she was correct, and with a litany of curses, used a tunic sleeve-wrapped hand to remove the pot from over his enchanted lantern. Looking over his shoulder at her, he laughed, “it’s definitely cooked, I’d say.”
But Lissanore could barely hear him. “What’s that on your back?” She demanded, moving forward.
With his tunic now askew, an image carved in black ink had been revealed. As she reached forward to touch it, her suspicions were confirmed, it was etched into his skin—but she had the distinct impression it was more cosmetic than the runes and glyphs that decorated the majority of her own limbs.
He turned and understanding lit in his eyes. “Oh, that? It’s a tattoo. Got it after a particularly hairy contract with my sister.” His expression darkened. “We both knew we were lucky to walk out of that alive and wanted to commemorate it.”
“Why an ermine?” She asked. Though stylized and simplistic in its linework, the lithe body of the weasel was unmistakable.
He shrugged. “Just felt right, you know? They’re not feared as creatures, the way that wolves or bears are. Lot of folks like them, in fact. But they’re great predators in their own right. Once saw one take down a rabbit three times its size to feed its young.”
“Capable but not feared,” Lissanore whispered, and he grinned.
“Exactly.” Then, upon seeing her expression, his brows furrowed. “Everything alright?”
Jerking her hand away from his skin, she nodded. “Of course. Sorry, lost in thought.”
Thoughts of her Goddess. It was a sign; she could feel it in her bones. The little brown ermine she’d followed through the woods—it had led her here. To this man. It was no coincidence.
Her journey had not been thwarted. It had only just now begun. Why the Goddess had brought her to this human man, however, she did not yet know.
Surprisingly, Lissanore did not dwell on it for long. She found it supremely hard to wallow in the unknowns while in the potent, distracting presence of Elwood. Oh, he was still an infuriatingly upbeat oaf, but he was also irresistibly charming. He’d already managed to pull out much of her life story, including her most recent decision to leave her monastery and experience the full breadth of the Goddess’ gifts.
Plus, he was an amazing cook, to boot.
She told him so, begrudgingly, as she patted her satisfyingly full stomach. The grin he’d sent her was bright enough to illuminate the whole cavern system.
“Don’t be fooled,” he warned her, the mock-serious tone of his voice ruined by the humor in his eyes. “I might be a genius with camp rations—”
“Wouldn’t go that far,” she mumbled rolling her eyes. He ignored her.
“—but put me in front of a stove with fresh ingredients and I burn water.”
“You can’t be serious,” Lissanore laughed, incredulous. “You’re telling me you can throw together a delicious stew with jerky and an ever-burning lantern, but are otherwise incompetent?”
“I wouldn’t say incompetent,” he grumbled, putting the dinner supplies away. When she attempted to assist, he waved her off. “I can’t make food in a kitchen, but I cook up a mean grease fire.” He grinned cheekily, “if I could only figure out how to replicate it, that talent would be more than useful in a fight.”
“Do you take anything seriously?” Lissanore asked, fighting valiantly not to smile back at him.
“Nope,” he said, popping the p as he sat back down. “Do you ever have any fun?”
She gaped at him. “I can be fun!” She insisted, glowering at his resulting scoff. “I can! I just know when something’s important.”
Was this man serious? Like what?
She sputtered for a moment. “Like my duties to the monastery? The safety of myself and my fellow monks? Like—”
Suddenly, he was above her, arms on either side of her head, braced on the rock behind. On his knees, he towered above her sitting form, practically surrounding her entire body. Those eyes of his seemed to pick apart her every thought, almost glowing in the light of the lantern. Gone was his jovial, carefree attitude, and Lissanore was surprised at the sheer intensity that lurked just beneath it.
He took her breath right from her lungs. Forced the muscles in her belly to clench like a fist. Sent sparks skating up and down her thighs. How could one feel so languid and so restless, all at once?
“You said you worship the Goddess of the Wilds, yes?” His voice was a low, silky purr, feeling like a gentle caress across her skin. Her breasts felt heavy with desire, the sensitive tips brushing against his chest with her every fevered inhale.
With a shiver, she nodded, still devoid of the power of speech.
“You worship Her for the gifts of life, correct?” He continued, his body inching lower, closer to hers. But it didn’t feel suffocating—it felt right. If she could move her limbs, she’d wrap them around him, eliminate even that tiny distance. “Breathing, eating, fighting?” He cocked his head, “joy, sadness, fury, pleasure?”
Lissanore nodded again, utterly lost in his spell.
The corner of his mouth tipped up, and one of his hands moved to her hair, clutching it, and lifting her face until it was a mere hairsbreadth from his own. She gasped, the blooming ache in her sex becoming urgent, insistent. “Then,” he said on a hoarse growl, “start your journey, Lissa, and appreciate those gifts with me.”
And then, his mouth was on hers, and she met him eagerly. It was like kissing a hurricane, roaring and untamed and impossible to master. His tongue was wicked and shameless, plundering her mouth and robbing her of all sense. All semblance of restraint vanished into the darkness of the caves.
Wrapping her legs around his trim waist, she climbed him like she would an apple tree—but the fruit she found with him was far, far sweeter. Clutching at his shoulders, she sank her teeth into his bottom lip, pulling a deep, rattling groan from his chest.
With a possessive hand on her ass, he flipped them so she straddled him, and they broke apart, panting heavily. Lissanore didn’t think it was possible for Elwood to be more appealing, but seeing his pale hair mussed from her hands, lips red from their kisses, eyes glazed with lust…he was positively wild.
He was right, she realized. Just as the Goddess intended.
It wasn’t as if Lissanore was a stranger to the pleasures of the flesh. She was sixty years old, and no blushing virgin. But though no followers of the Goddess denied themselves sex, and many long-lived mortals used sex to pass the years, she’d had no desire to lay with her fellow monks at the monastery. Though lovely, all of them, they hadn’t set her blood on fire.
Somewhere along the way, she’d made the unconscious decision to wait until she found someone who did. She’d had enough of bedding people out of boredom to last a lifetime. She’d found another way to pass the time—in worship of the Goddess.
Perhaps it had simply been too long since she’d indulged with another person, but she could not help but think that Elwood’s touch felt better than anything else she’d experienced.
Would everything, she wondered, be better with him?
She intended to find out.
Disentangling from him just enough to free her arms, she gripped the hem of her tunic, pulling it slowly over her head. Rising on her knees, her leggings followed soon after. His gaze turned molten at the sight of her bare breasts, almost entranced. It was so intense, as if cataloguing their movements on Lissanore’s every breath. As the seconds ticked by, the tension between them grew, and she found it almost impossible to remain still.
“I thought you intended to appreciate the Goddess’ gifts,” she teased, when she could bear it no longer.
Hooded eyes darted up to hers. “If they’re willing to be appreciated.”
“If they were any more willing,” she replied, reaching out to bring his head to her chest, “they’d burst into flame.”
His lips twitched. “We still talking about your tits?”
“Hush up and get to work.”
Needing no further encouragement, he captured a nipple between his lips, running his teeth teasingly along the aching peak, before taking it into his mouth and sucking like his life hung in the balance. The hand not holding her ass came up to cup her neglected breast, completely enveloping it in one giant mitt. Lissanore gasped, arching into him, her hips jolting and grinding down upon the rigid length in his armor.
With a vile curse, he tore her underthings off with a trembling fist, urging her hips down once more, her now bare folds treated to the sensation of his smoothly studded leather pants. The cool, smooth domes of metal felt utterly unique as they whispered along her wet lips, purred over her clit. Little pops of pleasurable agony impacted in her belly, and already she could feel her orgasm approaching.
Releasing her nipple with a pop, Elwood rose so his mouth brushed the shell of her pointed ear, his hips rolling without mercy against her own. “That’s my good girl,” he murmured, breath hot against her overly sensitized skin. “Polishing my armor for me with her sweet little pussy.”
With his wicked words dancing through her head, Lissanore flew into her climax, body taut and trembling, ripples of sensation overwhelming her as her innermost muscles squeezed desperately. Throughout it all, Elwood’s movements never ceased, his heavy-lidded eyes watching as he took every little bit of her orgasm that he could. She suffered through what seemed like the endless peak, her nails scrabbling along his still-clothed form as she slowly drifted back down.
No longer capable of rational thought, her body still pulsing with aftershocks, she felt her magic flow down her arms, wicked claws sprouting from her fingertips. Before she knew what had happened, she tore the back of his tunic to shreds.
Elwood’s self-satisfied expression morphed to confusion as he leaned back. When he saw the results of her magic, however, all traces of confusion vanished, replaced by raw lust. Still, her cheeks heated—she hadn’t let it get away from her like that in decades.
“I’ll cast mend on it after,” she hurried to say between puffs of breath.
Shrugging off the tattered remains of his tunic, he growled, “worth it.” When his cock twitched between her thighs, she knew he was telling the truth.
“Then undo the pants, or they’ll get the same treatment,” she shot back, pressing her claws ever-so-gently against his armored thighs.
She’d never seen a man move so fast in her life, and before she could blink, his shaft was free. He was a massive and utterly proportional man, his erection thick and throbbing almost painfully. She ran a claw gently up one raised vein, delighting in his groan before dispelling her magic to grasp him firmly with now-normal hands.
“No more playing,” Elwood commanded, his hand gliding up to tug firmly on her hair once more. “Put me where I belong.”
Meeting his eyes, Lissanore did so, both of them hissing in a sharp breath in tandem as the blunt head of his cock parted her lips, circling her entrance. Suddenly gripped by a fierce impatience, she dropped, her ass rebounding deliciously against his armor.
“Fuck!” Elwood roared, throwing his head back against the stone, throat exposed.
Lissanore found herself unable to draw breath, her jaw clenching as she struggled to acclimate to the incredible fullness of him inside of her. It was just so much, and it had been so very long since she’d had anything more than her own fingers inside of her.
Even so, it was absolutely divine.
“You need a moment, adventurer?” She couldn’t help but prod as she recovered her senses.
His head popped back up, and before she knew it, her back was against the floor, her discarded clothing cushioning her skin as he braced above her. And then, he began to move. He didn’t piston in and out like a race to the finish, but thrusted in heavy, even drives, like a blacksmith’s hammer on an anvil. Canting his hips up, the head of his cock dragged ruthlessly against that magical spot below her belly button. Incredibly, still buzzing from her previous orgasm, Lissanore found herself cresting once more.
Feeling the fluttering of her walls against his shaft, Elwood managed a strained smirk.
“That’s it, babe. Come all fucking over me.” A roughly calloused thumb moved to press against the exposed nub of her clit, sweeping back and forth. “Take us both over, squeeze that pretty cunt.”
Clamping her thighs on either side of his ribs, Lissanore could do nothing but obey, clutching fistfuls of the fabric below her as she came with a shrill cry of relief.
As her pussy pulsed around him, Elwood lost his steady, brutal rhythm, hips stuttering and freezing as he, too, reached his climax, her name and bliss-soaked curses tumbling from his lips as he erupted within her. She had seen nothing so wild and beautiful in her long life—eyes rolling back into his head, the cords of his neck jumping, arms bulging on either side of her head.
Their combined pleasure seemed endless, but when, finally, they drifted back into their bodies, Elwood’s big body collapsed, his full weight settling on her and drawing out a startled squeak. With a throaty chuckle, he rolled, taking her with him and settling her over his chest.
“Gotta be careful with you,” he said by way of apology.
She scoffed. “Fairly certain ‘careful’ was the last thing on your mind just now.”
He shot her a languid, satisfied grin. “Sleep, before I show you just how careful I can be.”
“You can’t possibly go again,” she argued, but the effect was somewhat ruined by a jaw-popping yawn.
Running a calloused palm up and down her bare back, he laughed again, the vibrations of his chest soothing. “Call it my second wind.”
Lissanore wasn’t quite sure how she managed to get caught up in Elwood’s schemes. If she had to blame it on something, it would likely be his dick, which after extensive study, she concluded was magical in nature.
She’d had a really, really good couple days. Especially since his master plan to get his now-retired adventuring sister, Briony, “back into the game” was rather simple. It really only involved walking around the caverns and leaving a trail that even a toddler could follow. The majority of the last two days had been spent talking, squabbling (which, irritatingly, Elwood loved), and rolling around their campsite, pleasuring one another. The man was a menace, but one she was already inordinately fond of.
On the morning of the third day, however, Lissanore found she could no longer keep her opinions to herself.
“I know I haven’t met her,” she began, watching Elwood’s exaggeratedly heavy stride with a shake of her head. “But are you sure your sister will be fooled by this nonsense?”
He turned, smacking a hand to his chest as if mortally wounded. “Nonsense? Is that what you call this great quest of mine?”
“I thought that was me being rather kind,” Lissanore sniffed, hiding a smile behind her hand.
“Fair enough,” he agreed easily, turning back around to continue his silly little routine. As they approached another small cave, he continued, “I’m certain she’s figured me out by now—in fact, I’d bet my coin purse she knew as soon as she entered the Labyrinth. But keeping up the ruse will make her think that I don’t think that, and if she thinks that I think that, then she’ll think I’m stupid and get really riled up. All of which I find hilarious.”
Lissanore paused for a moment, mind reeling as she attempted to parse out what in the Goddess’ name he’d just said, before swiftly giving up. She decided that she really had no reason to understand the way his brain worked. With a little mental shrug, she rushed forward, only to narrowly avoid crashing into him as he abruptly halted. Peering around him, her eyes widened.
Like fools, they’d stumbled into a kobold camp.
She counted three of them, already on their feet, weapons drawn, and stances set, ready to converge upon Elwood. Small scales covered the draconic bipeds, all three of them male, bereft of clothing aside from surprisingly clean dark waistcloths. At each of their hips hung thick belts, laden with weapons, tools, and pockets of every shape and size. They regarded Elwood with fierce expressions, three sets of gleaming, razor-sharp white teeth bared in bloodthirsty snarls. Inky black horns and hooked talons shone in the meager light of the torch as they advanced, their thick, flexible tails whipping behind them agitatedly.
Elwood’s hand darted to his sword and Lissanore drew in a sharp breath, calling upon the Goddess and her ki.
The middle kobold, with scales colored in a surprisingly pleasant shade of moss green, halted, raising a clawed hand to the others. Shrewd, golden eyes studied her, slit pupils shrinking and expanding with interest.
“What deity do you serve?” The rasping voice spoke each word with a snarl, but he did not seem angry, now—merely curious.
“My Goddess has no name,” Lissanore managed through her suddenly dry throat, ducking under Elwood’s arm to stand in slightly in front of him. Ignoring his grunt of protest, she continued, “She is the Wilds, and beyond the names of mortals.”
All three weapons lowered, and the kobold on the right bobbed his rust-colored head. “We do not dedicate ourselves to Her worship, but what creature can truly claim to be untouched by the Wilds?”
The third kobold flicked his eyes towards the man behind her, blue-gray hands tightening on his ax. “Are you in need of our aid? We would be happy to help—anything for a follower of the Goddess.”
Elwood coughed to cover a small laugh, and all three kobolds narrowed their eyes at him. Lissanore herself could’ve cheerfully shaken the oaf. Now was no time for arrogance and pride, not when it seemed this encounter could end without bloodshed.
“No, he’s with me,” she hurried to say, before he could open his foolish mouth. “But it is beyond kind of you to offer. My name is Lissanore, and my companion here is called Elwood,” she met each of their reptilian gazes evenly. “What are your names, may I ask?”
“I am called Gired,” the green kobold answered. “This is Skix,” he gestured towards his red companion with a flick of his tail, “and Izen.” The blue kobold bobbed his head.
Skrix bared his teeth in what Lissanore could only assume was his approximation of a smile. “It is an honor to meet one such as yourself. The hour grows late—perhaps you would join us for a meal and conversation?”
She vaguely heard Elwood grumble something below his breath regarding just the sort of conversation he’d like to have with them and his sword, and Lissanore wished she had the magic to silence him. Instead, she opted for a swift elbow jab. The infernal man didn’t so much as pretend to be hurt.
“That sounds lovely.” And truly, it did. They’d come a rather long way that day, and she could use a rest. Plus, these kobolds intrigued her. They were so very different from the creatures she’d read about in her books. “Does that invitation extend to my companion as well?”
She wouldn’t blame them if it didn’t.
Gired, however, merely curled his lip slightly, before nodding. “If he must. But he has to promise to keep his sword in its scabbard.”
“He will,” she agreed before Elwood could speak. “You’ll be glad to have him, he’s quite the camp cook, and he’d be happy to whip something up for us.”
“I would?” Elwood asked, sounding more amused than irritated, now.
“You would,” she confirmed, sending him a look over her shoulder that brooked no argument.
Izen rubbed his clawed, three-fingered hands together excitedly. “We look forward to it.”
Dinner with the kobolds was exactly the kind of thing Lissanore had imagined when she had left her monastery. As it turned out, the trio had run into the Goddesses monks before. Skix had sustained and injury that would’ve killed him if not for the monk’s intervention and healing knowledge. When he recovered, all three kobolds had subsequently gained a healthy respect for the Goddess and those who worshipped her.
Lissanore was certain that the Goddess had led her to them, just as she’d been led to Elwood. Knowing the Goddess watched out for her so voraciously warmed her heart. She knew, without a doubt, that she’d been right to leave her monastery, to explore the world. It was the path she was meant for.
It certainly helped that the kobolds were entertaining dinner companions. Even Elwood had loosened up in their presence, and soon the four males were competing to tell the most outrageous, (and, Lissanore suspected, somewhat fictional), stories of their adventures. It only improved her opinion of the man more that he’d so easily trusted her and accepted the kobolds.
Throughout the dinner, the kobolds had repeatedly asked if there was anything they could do to assist her and, by extension, Elwood, along their journey. They owed a debt to the Goddess’ followers, as they saw it, and wanted nothing more than to repay it. Lissanore had tried to assure them that their company was the only boon she needed, but they seemed supremely unsatisfied by that answer.
Still, it was a pleasant evening.
“You know,” Izen said once they’d all finished eating. “I seem to remember that followers of the Goddess are often well-versed in unarmed combat.”
All four males swung to look at her, Elwood in particular grinning wolfishly. She blushed.
“Many of us are, yes.”
“She’s being modest,” Elwood clucked, shaking his head.
“You’ve witnessed her skill?” Skix asked, leaning forward excitedly.
“No,” Elwood admitted, and Lissanore could tell that, in that awful, awful brain of his, he was cooking up another scheme. “But if she’s half as good as she is with her magic, then she’s a little whirlwind.”
“I’d like to see this,” Gired proclaimed, and both Izen and Skrix bobbed their heads in enthusiastic agreement.
“She would love to,” Elwood spoke before she could, mouthing “payback” in her direction.
Thoroughly trapped and determined to be a good sport about it, Lissanore stood, brushing herself off. “Well then, who’s to be my opponent?”
“Let’s make it a fair fight,” Elwood answered on a smirk. “Three on one.”
She narrowed her eyes, but her pride was implicated now. “Done.”
“You’re certain?” Izen asked, popping up from his crouch. The other two followed suit—they were almost comically small next to Elwood’s giant frame, but they stood only a foot or so shorter than her. Each was corded with hard muscle, and she had no doubt they would use their whip-like tails to their advantage while sparring.
Still, she was not without her own tricks, and she’d been training in unarmed combat for decades in her monastery. If she were completely honest, she welcomed the challenge.
Meeting the questioning eyes of the kobolds, she nodded firmly. “I’m very sure.”
Gired bared his fangs in a smile. “Perfection.”
The match had simple rules: no blood, no full contact, and no weapons. Elwood would be the mediator, and Lissanore could not help but remain suspicious at the glimmer of mischief that lingered on his face.
But, as the three kobolds circled her, and the match began, she could no longer devote her attention to it.
The kobolds were lightning fast, and, unfortunately for her, seasoned warriors. All three launched at her at once, from three separate directions, not sacrificing their advantage by attacking one at a time.
With the strength of her ki pulsing through her, she blocked Izen as he swiped at her head, before hitting him with an open-palmed strike that, normally, would send him flying back, but, for the sake of sparring, only sent him stumbling away. She barely finished in time to jump away from Gired’s lashing green tail.
She knew they’d be a nuisance.
Skrix, unfortunately, managed to land a solid kick to the back of her knee as she dodged, and, though it didn’t hurt, she had to roll as her knee gave out, narrowly avoiding Gired’s second set of attacks. She popped back up just in time to catch Izen as he recovered, but the blue kobold was denser than she’d anticipated, and she went down with him. They rolled, and she just barely managed to get the better of him—though she had more skill in grappling, he was far stronger at close quarters than she.
Pinning him beneath her, trapping his torso between her thighs, she caught Skrix’s wrist, pulling him off balance and creating a perfect opening. Before she could capitalize upon it, however, Gired’s tail wrapped around her abdomen, jerking her forward onto poor Izen, and freeing Skrix from her hold. The wily kobolds soon had her surrounded.
Lissanore was forced to concede, a small laugh bubbling from her throat. “I yield.” She looked up at the red kobold in front of her, a smile on her face. “You three are impressive fighters.”
Then, she froze, becoming aware of Izen beneath her, his clawed hand clutching just above her knee. Behind her, Gired’s tail had released its grip from her middle, only to flick gently against her lower back. As the high from their sparring faded, these little touches seemed like licks of fire.
But…she could not say she disliked the burn.
Skrix seemed just as aware of the situation, yellow eyes glowing as they roved over every little inch of her. After clearing his throat with a rough, growl-like cough, he said, “it is you who was impressive. We held back the strength of our blows, whereas you held back the true scope of your abilities.”
There was truth to his statement, but it flattered her nonetheless, and did nothing to cool the lust that was slowly building within her. She felt her nipples pebble against the fabric of her shirt, the material teasing her with every movement. Izen’s hand had slowly begun to drift up from her knee, edging just a little too close to the apex of her thighs, which had begun to pool with warmth. Gired’s tail had abandoned all pretense of innocence, tucking up beneath her clothing to drift along the bare skin of her back.
Helplessly, she sent a pleading look towards Elwood, her eyes widening to see him running the heel of his hand back and forth along the growing bulge in his armor, and it dawned on her the reason for the evil look he’d had before the match.
Scheming, scheming human.
“You three wanted to know how you could repay your debt to the Goddess’ devotees, correct?” He asked, addressing the kobolds as he dropped his hand and approached.
“Of course,” Gired’s voice, thick with desire, echoed from behind her.
Elwood halted in front of Lissanore, hand gripping her chin possessively. “Well, I have a few ideas, if the lady here wants to hear them.”
All eyes were on her, and her answer was an easy one.
“What did you have in mind?”
The kobolds didn’t wait to hear what Elwood would say in response—they just converged.
Below Lissanore, Izen gripped her trousers by the inseam and yanked, the two halves fluttering down to pool at her knees. She had just a moment to be thankful—not for the first time these past few days—that she knew the mending spell before a long, serpentine tongue curled out from Izen’s mouth, three golden piercings glittering along its length. Without preamble, he delved it between the folds of her sex, trilling contentedly at her taste, before plunging it deep inside of her.
She had barely mustered a gasp of shock and pleasure before Gired stepped forward, pulling her shirt over her head, his scaled snout pressing against her throat.
“What a delicious way to pay what we owe,” he hissed, that dexterous tail of his reaching around her to curl around one distended, pink nipple, constricting and pulling in a manner that was impossibly wicked.
The sound of Elwood’s now-familiar needy groan drew her attention, and she felt her pussy clench at the sight that greeted her.
Skrix stood in front of her human companion, his own dark tongue curled around Elwood’s erect shaft, red tail wrapped around Elwood’s muscled thigh as he worked. Their differences in stature meant he didn’t even have to kneel for his task, he stood at the perfect height. Already, Elwood’s ruddy length glistened with the kobold’s saliva.
“I do not worship the Goddess, kobold,” he grunted, though the hand he had curled around the Skrix’s black horn did nothing to halt their activities. “You’ve no debt to repay to me.”
With one, languid lick, the kobold released Elwood, rumbling, “trust me, this is no hardship, human.”
Elwood’s grip tightened. “In that case…don’t be afraid to use your teeth.” He looked up at Lissanore, eyes blazing. “I’ve discovered I rather like sharp things on my cock.”
Suddenly, Lissanore’s attention was brought back to the other two kobolds, as Izen’s tongue twisted and writhed, sending utterly unique and blissful sensations shooting up and down her spine. Gired’s tail, meanwhile, had abandoned her nipples to snake downward, curling around her clit this time. When it constricted in a beautifully sharp pinch, she came, shuddering and crying out as Gired’s fangs skated along her jaw, Izen’s tongue rattling with a snarl inside of her as he lapped up her release.
Before her orgasm had crested, the kobolds maneuvered her so she straddled Gired, who swiftly undid the knot at his waistcloth, casting it aside and giving her her very first look at his cock.
A thick, bulbous shaft jutted from his pelvis, layers of smooth, ridged scales encasing the entirety of his length. The head was heavy and blunt, and she just knew it would do awful, wonderous things inside of her. Though he lacked Elwood’s impressive length, the texture and sheer girth looked toe-curlingly delicious.
“Who’s repaying who again?” She asked as she rolled her hips against him, those scaled ridges pop, pop, popping against her clit.
Gired bared his fangs. “Mount me, and we will find out.”
Lissanore needed no further encouragement, rising up only to sink back down and about come all over again.
By the Goddess, he felt amazing!
Gired’s claws prickled her skin as they tightened around her thighs, the sensation positively electric in her fevered state. Behind her, Izen’s own set of claws trailed down her spine, his tail tracing her cunt where it stretched around his companion’s thick shaft. The tip dipped in her wetness before cheekily drifting back to explore her other entrance. The tapered tip glided easily into her ass, and Lissanore hissed out a breath at the new set of sensations, not quite sure what to think of it.
As the blue kobold’s tail twisted within her, she decided she liked it. Very much.
Lissanore threw her dark hair over her shoulder to eye Izen, his reptilian eyes intent upon his sensual task. Seeing her looking back at him, he flicked that lovely tongue of his out impudently.
“Your ass is very tight, even for my tail.” His voice was anything but disapproving.
“If you need lubricant,” Elwood said, voice thick as he held Skrix’s head, the kobold’s snout nearly enveloping the entirety of his length. “I have some in my pack.”
Had she not been so distracted by the two kobold’s attentions, Lissanore would’ve scoffed at the notion that the oaf had brought lubricant in his adventuring gear.
She couldn’t say it surprised her.
Izen merely scoffed. “I have my own.”
Huh. Apparently, it was standard equipment.
So saying, the kobold reached into one of the many pockets along his belt, retrieving a small glass bottle. Quickly slathering the contents along his thick blue cock, he pressed against her bottom hole, inching in, ridge by ridge. His entrance was so achingly slow, Lissanore would have happily sworn before the Goddess that she felt every. Single. Scale. It was torturous. It was obscene.
She loved it.
If Lissanore had thought the pleasure to be overwhelming before, with only one kobold, the two of them simultaneously threatened to fry her brain entirely.
Gired and Izen seemed to agree wholeheartedly, if the litany of draconic grunts, growls, and snarls were any indication. For a moment, they stilled, expectation settling over the trio like a heavy sheet.
Then, the kobolds began to move.
Unlike Elwood, they didn’t take their time or luxuriate in every moment—they took her like every thrust was their last, determined to unleash their depravity upon her, tongues laving over every bit of skin they could reach. Scaled pubic bones bounced off her thighs and ass in stinging, delicious impacts, each collision causing her inner muscles to tighten and release around their invading cocks.
In front of her, she was treated to the sight of Elwood and Skrix’s heated encounter, the former clearly fast approaching his climax. He drove his hips into the fanged maw of the kobold as if he couldn’t control his own body, teeth bared, the muscles of his jaw jumping with each of Skrix’s rattling growls of pleasure.
Lissanore watched, enraptured, as Elwood’s body seized, a giant fist slamming against the rough wall of the cave beside him as he came, a muffled shout of completion tumbling from between clenched teeth.
Skrix reluctantly released his tail’s hold on Elwood’s thigh, his long tongue oozing out to lick his chops, an almost smugly satisfied expression on his draconic face.
“Perhaps, after that, I do owe you a debt,” the kobold teased.
Elwood managed a thin laugh, before casting a groggy look Lissanore’s way, lighting up when he saw her panting lustily, the other two kobold’s rapid drives within her body showing no signs of stopping or flagging. The half-elf, for her part, was barely hanging on, but she was determined to delay her orgasm, to experience every little bit of pleasure this encounter had to offer.
Her human companion read her like a book, a slow smile spreading across his handsome face.
Running a blunt-fingered hand through his tousled hair, he said, innocently as could be, “well, you could repay me now, Skrix—it seems my Lissa has one more hole yet to be filled.”
The kobold’s fangs glinted on a smile, and Lissanore, eager as he, tilted her head up, her mouth opening wide to receive the kobold’s red shaft. She was treated to yet another unique experience—the scales along his ridged length were surprisingly warm, their glossy sheen delighting her as she hollowed her cheeks, tongue cupping the unusual appendage reverently as he shuttled in and out of her mouth, nudging the back of her throat.
She started when a familiar voice drifted across her pointed ear, Elwood’s hands moving beneath her to pinch her nipples sharply.
“It’s rude to deny these fine males your pleasure,” he scolded, tsking at her resulting moan. “I know you’re close, babe. Give it to us.”
He was right—every part of Lissanore’s body had come alive. Her abdomen was one big knot of tension and molten heat, her limbs beginning to twitch uncontrollably she neared the end. Every time she clenched upon the kobolds inside of her, her soft tissues were tortured with every hard-scaled inch of them. She was fast approaching the point of no return.
Hearing Elwood’s words, Izen’s hand reached around her hips as he continued to plunder her ass, rolling her clit with his hard, cool foreclaw. Just like that, she came, came so hard it was almost brutal. She wailed around Skrix’s cock, her body clamping down upon Gired and Izen so hard they struggled to move within her. Tears spilled from her eyes as they watered, the climax stretching on and on.
She was certain she could not survive such potent, violent ecstasy.
The kobolds followed her not long after, Izen falling upon her back as he shuddered and hissed, Gired’s claws sending up sparks and they scrabbled wildly against the rock beneath him. Skrix’s release shot down her throat, coating her tongue as he continued to rock his hips, the taste of his release surprisingly spicy, like warm cinnamon.
As the pleasure wound down, the four of them collapsed into a tangled heap of limbs on the cave floor. Lissanore could not parse tail from hand from claw, nor did she particularly care to. She was more than content to lie in their web of satisfied bliss, breathing hard and glistening with sweat from their exertions. It was an almost meditative trance of mutual exhaustion.
Elwood, eventually, broke the silence.
“Well, I think that pays maybe half your debt, yeah?”
All three kobolds joined Lissanore in a long-suffering groan.
Lissanore ducked beneath the bugbear’s thundering club, sniffing at his slow, clumsy movement. After her sparring with the kobolds, these bumbling fools felt almost too easy. Sure, they were giant brutes who would likely level her with one strike, but considering she danced around them as if they stood still, she wasn’t terribly worried.
Her human companion, unfortunately, seemed to be faring equally well. It disappointed her—after the idiot had gotten them into this whole mess with his schemes, it seemed to her he could at least have the decency to take a few hits. Once again, Lissanore found herself bemoaning her choice to go along with his hairbrained plotting.
Looking back on it now, their encounter with the trio of kobolds seemed almost a dream, though it had only happened two days ago. Unfortunately, as she was fast discovering, life moved quickly when in the company of Elwood. Whether he was just supremely unlucky or sought out the trouble, she honestly couldn’t say.
After a few more…training matches…the kobolds were finally satisfied that they’d paid their debt and allowed the two to depart from their encampment. They’d made it very clear, however, that the both of them were more than welcome back anytime.
Elwood, however, had been restless. He’d started to worry about his sister, who, by his estimation, should have found them by then. Why he’d ever worried about the towering, muscle-bound woman who’d come to their rescue, Lissanore would never understand. Between Briony, the giant minotaur (who for some reason seemed to be following her around), and what appeared to be a hound as big as Lissanore herself, most of the bugbears had already been dispatched by the time she and Elwood joined the fray.
The half-elf landed a spinning kick into the head of a bugbear, the force of it snapping the snarling creature’s neck, and then whirled, ready for her next opponent.
None were forthcoming.
Instead, she’d found Elwood, cheerful as ever, busying himself loving on the giant black dog—whose name was Bat, apparently—all the while being thoroughly lectured by his sister. Listening to Briony tear her brother apart was a privilege, and Lissanore almost wished she’d taken notes. She’d clearly had a lot of practice cleaning up her brother’s messes.
Lissanore decided she rather liked her.
The reunion didn’t last long, however, before the fierce warrior woman was swept up by the even fiercer minotaur, the two of them rushing from the bugbears’ layer in the oddest, sweetest coupling Lissanore had ever seen, Bat bounding after them eagerly.
“Didn’t see that coming,” Elwood remarked when the trio had left.
Lissanore scoffed. “Didn’t see that bugbear raiding party coming either, apparently, despite all your boasting.”
He winked at her cheekily. “I was distracted,” then he winced, “but it was not the way I prefer to be tied up, if I’m being honest.”
“Is that so?” She quipped, “because I found that to be the only enjoyable part of that whole ordeal.”
“You,” Elwood purred, eyes darkening, “can tie me up whenever you’d like.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Lissanore simpered, scuffing the toe of her boot on the floor. “Maybe I’ve had enough of your adventures.”
“No, you haven’t,” he countered, full of his customary arrogance. “If you got to experience all of this just in the Cavern Labyrinth, imagine what it’ll be like with me on the surface.”
How was it that the mischievous glint in his eyes both excited and terrified her?
“Perhaps that’s exactly why I want to part ways,” she retorted, but her words were utterly without conviction.
Quirking a pale brow, Elwood smirked, extending a hand toward her, palm up. “You know you love me wild.”
Smiling and shaking her head, Lissanore placed her hand in his.